Gimme a Smile: Fill it up with regular

I do love going out to the movies.

By Peggy McKee Barnhill

I went to the movies the other day. Basking in my newfound freedom to feel relatively safe sitting in a movie theater for two hours without feeling like I was going to die, I headed out to see the latest comic book blockbuster. Being on the road at the time, I found myself facing a bewildering list of choices. Did I want to see it in English Spoken with Mandarin Subtitles, IMAX, Dolby Cinema, RealD 3D, or Digital? Seriously? I just wanted to go to the movies after all this time. How about Regular?

Once inside the theater lobby, having settled the ticket question, I faced another dizzying array of choices: what to drink with my popcorn. Usually, the biggest difference is Coke or Pepsi products, and then there are five or so options to choose from. Five is a manageable number when it comes to drinks. They had Coke products, so I asked for a Sprite. Simple enough, right?


I was handed a cup and pointed toward a self-dispenser with a cycle of Sprite variants spinning in an endless loop, waiting for me to make an informed choice. Had I somehow entered the comic book reality of the movie? In what universe is a Sprite anything other than a fizzy lemon-lime drink? I can’t even remember my choices now—I must have blocked them out to protect my overloaded brain. I have a hazy recollection that raspberry, cherry and pina colada might have made an appearance. No thanks! For me, regular Sprite, please.

I’m a regular kind of gal. I like plain old potato chips with no fancy baked-in flavors. If I want them to taste like sour cream and onions, I’ll find a savory dip to do the trick. I like vanilla ice cream, Classic Coke, and the original “Star Trek.” I’ve worn the same hairstyle for most of my adult life. Hmm, “regular” is starting to sound like a synonym for “boring.”

I learned about “regular” at a young age. I remember on road trips with my family, we would pull up to the gas pump where my dad would roll down his window and instruct the helpful gas station attendant, “Fill it up with regular.” The kid would pump the gas, check the oil dipstick, wash the windshield, and then present my dad with a receipt to sign for his Shell card. I don’t know what my dad’s other choices were at the gas pump—he always chose regular. Just like me.

So, when it came time for me to get my COVID-19 vaccine this past February, I hoped to go for regular. There was a lot of news about the new mRNA vaccines with their scary side effects, up to and including anaphylaxis. I launched into a frenzy of medical research that consisted of reading online articles and social media posts for an entire afternoon. As a result of this exhaustive research, I zeroed in on the vaccine I wanted to get because it seemed the most regular. It wasn’t available yet, so I decided to check with my doctor. Yeah, she probably did have a better grasp on the science, given her years in medical school as compared to my afternoon of web surfing. When I asked her if I should wait for the regular shot, she said to me, “I wish you would get the vaccine.” Because I trust her, I got the shot. For once in my life, I chose to step outside my comfort zone and go for the non-regular option. It all worked out. I didn’t succumb to anaphylaxis, and after a second dose and a two-week waiting period, I felt like I could step out into the world once again. I do love going out to the movies.

For the record, I chose Dolby Cinema at the movie theater. It was not regular. The sound was so intense that I could feel the explosions and car crashes through my seat back. Next time, I’ll probably choose Digital, unless they want to tempt me with Regular.

•Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life. Gimme a Smile appears monthly in Neighbors.

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